Being disabled does not mean you should stop achieving your dreams

As part of her time at the University of Chester studying Spanish, Andrea Sapundjija spent an Erasmus+ year studying at the University of Granada in Spain. Andrea has cerebral palsy and received Erasmus+ Special Needs Funding to support her while abroad. She blogs here about her experience.

Andrea spent an Erasmus+ year studying at the University of Granada in Spain.

My Erasmus+ experience at the University of Granada was a challenging but exciting one. Although I am in a wheelchair, my greatest fear was being away from my family for the first time in my life, probably like many other Erasmus+ students. I also had to think about practical issues - such as accessible accommodation, transport and classrooms.

My experience

I had an apartment in the university accommodation which helped me to get involved in student university life. I was probably the only student using a wheelchair at the University. Initially I had a few problems, like cars blocking access ramps or lack of space to manoeuvre my electric wheelchair. However, after a couple of weeks at the university I got accustomed and comfortable with the new surroundings. This was not only a new experience for me, but also for the people who were working on the campus. What they lacked in experience they all made up for with goodwill and big hearts! Attending classes was not an issue and I really enjoyed being part of it all.

Getting around

Andrea travelled to the Sierra Nevada with family and friendsGranada is a very old city so naturally there are many parts which aren’t accessible for wheelchair users. But the local people are very friendly and would always help and the public transport is good, with new accessible buses. I also travelled around Andalusia with my friends and family, who came out to visit.

Sharing my story on local television

All of the students and staff at the campus and university were really helpful, communicative and accommodative towards all my needs. By the second month, everyone knew my name - students, professors, and university staff alike!  The curiosity about the disabled Erasmus+ student even reached the Andalusian regional TV, Canal Sur, who came and interviewed me. My story was broadcast for the regional news and I felt like a movie star!  I’m really pleased that they used my experience as a way to raise the awareness about the needs of students with disabilities.

Making friends

At the beginning of the academic year I was lucky to meet a local Spanish girl, through a local agency working with disabled people, who accepted my offer to help me with scribing during my classes in Spanish. We became great friends; we clicked from the moment we first met. We were constantly chatting, in Spanish, and meeting up to go out with her friends who introduced me to the “Tapas” culture.

New horizons

It was a privilege to live in Granada for a year and to discover one of the most beautiful cities in the world. My Erasmus+ experience was so enjoyable that I will always remember it fondly, spending a year abroad in Granada has made me a more independent and self-confident person.

My Erasmus+ year abroad was definitely one of the best experiences of my life!

Erasmus+ funding

The additional funding was really useful; it allowed me to pay for an extra room, which was the only accessible available apartment on the campus and meant that the support assistant could live with me. It also covered the cost of hiring specialist equipment that I needed- such as a shower hoist and chair. As I had travel back to the UK during the holidays, I also used the funding to help pay for my support assistant to travel with me. Really what it gave me was my independence.

Susannah Chappell, my Erasmus+ Coordinator at Chester University helped me complete the application to receive the additional Erasmus+ Special Needs Funding.

Susannah says, “The application looks more complicated than it is; it is actually fairly straightforward and the benefits really outweigh everything. The scope of the fund is very beneficial to students with special needs and it enables them to comfortably participate in the programme. We would definitely encourage other High Education Institutions and staff within Disability Support teams and academic departments to support their students in applying for this funding.”

Go for it

Being disabled does not mean you can’t achieve your dreams. You may have to overcome many obstacles, especially in a different country with perhaps less experience of accessibility issues, but I would definitely recommend other students embark on this journey. It will broaden their horizons and make them stronger and more confident.

Participants can read more on funding and support for special needs and higher education coordinators can review the information about additional support on the higher education projects page.

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